Liberty lies in your feet

It was Elm Street WC1 that set me free and took me through the square that wasn’t there. Holsworthy Square is merely a block of flats with a courtyard. Holsworthy, a town in north Devon, another link in the Rosebery Avenue connection that includes Exmouth Market, Bideford, Braunton, Dulverton , Dawlish, and Barnstaple Mansions.
The Gunmakers closed its doors as I got there, Duke of Yorks was kari-effing-oke. Disillusioned I wandered into Mount Pleasant, then Elm Street. As I strolled onto Grays Inn Road I sensed a more urban ambience, Bloomsbury’s poor cousin. Endless possibilities open up. Should I finally try the Calthorpe Arms? Nah too snug, a real regular’s pub. Further up the Queen’s Head was geezers playing pool and the Percy Arms remains boarded up.
I end up in the comfortable pseudo-trendy Clockwork atop Pentonville Road full of relaxed vibes for the Blank Generation. There are exactly ten people in the place, maybe it picks up the sad souls who can’t get into Salmon & Compasses and the Elbow Room? Upstairs from 10-3am is Skrew! Nu-Electro Dirty Disco & Sleazy Punk with DJs T-Lady and The Real Joan Collins. Dobney’s Tea Gardens, White Conduit House and Busby’s Folly have been replaced by pubs hastily converted into bop-bars, demi-clubs of the Annam ilk that draw the City clerks north and leave them scattered on early morning puke-and-piss-splattered pavements just as in the days that Victorian inheritances were squandered on gin, races and whores and written about by Oliver Goldsmith.

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Autotopobiography

Whilst hoofing it down to Soho the other night I put together a few more fragments of my autotopobiography (a fantastically unwieldy term mis-remembered from Phil Smith’s essay ‘Dread, Route and Time: An Autobiographical Walking of Everything Else’) of the area. I suppose it starts with Barnstaple Mansions on Rosebery Avenue. My parents moved to Barnstaple a few years back. Mulligans pub in the same street also serves up a decent pint of Brakespeare’s which comes from my native Thames Valley and is the brew that I cut my teeth on as a teenager.
Further down I stopped to note down the brown LCC plaque on 22 Theobalds Road to Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield who was born there in 1804. I was born in High Wycombe and Disraeli launched his political career with a disastrous speech from the balcony of the Red Lion Hotel in Wycombe High Street, he lived up the hill in Hughenden and said that there was something in the air of Bucks that leant itself to politics. I studied politics at City Poly.
Not far away at 64 Red Lion Street WC1 there’s a nondescript 60’s seven-storey block of flats called Beaconsfield (probably because of Dizzi’s birthplace round the corner) and Beaconsfield was where I got married, where my first girlfriend lived and where I spent much of my teens drinking that Brakespeare’s.
The rest of journey to the Curzon was free of associations and I spent an hourin Chinatown looking for a small white fortune kitten to replace the one my son had lost and pined for.

Coming home I get drawn off Guilford Street down a dark Doughty Mews to the Duke pub (more of that another time) which sits on the corner of John’s Mews and Roger Street – my name minus an ‘s’ on the end. A previous John Rogers was famous for printing the second complete Bible in English. He used to preach at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre-without Newgate on Holborn Viaduct and was eventually thrown in Newgate prison over the road, tried as Lollard heretic and burnt at the stake in Smithfield in 1555 (ish). All places on my daily drifts.
Lollards have a strong association with Bucks and one leader Thomas Chase was tortured to death in the village of Wooburn Green where I grew up.
I was back down that way last week interviewing this lovely old couple for a psychogeography project I’m working on connected to the area http://remappinghighwycombe.blogspot.com. This couple are practising Methodists and halfway through the evening David presents me with a book he co-authored, ‘250 Years of Chiltern Methodism’. I open it on the train home to read that John Wesley, founder of Methodism, used to worship at the Moravian chapel in Fetter Lane where I walk nearly every day. He went on to open his first Chapel just down the road from me in City Road where he lived.
Now I’m building up countless new associations with Islington and around, each day triggers off echoes of feelings from other times and experiences. My mood map of the borough already has its warm spots glowing yellow and red; the high corner of Highbury Fields where I used to go to soak up the spirit of the French clowns I saw perform there (gave me strength in my own performing days), and the house on Liverpool Road where my son was conceived. Like a lot of stuff on this blog this is a work-in-progress, it’ll change depending on my mood. Martyrs and Heretics just seem to be on my mind at the moment.

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